Speeches and Boston rain

Having attended a college that prides itself on communication programs and media arts, all the speeches from the graduate program commencement ceremony are on youtube. Emerson College streamed the whole ceremony live, which is great for people whose families are far flung. Tony Kushner (playwright and screenwriter) gave the address, and I would say it’s the best commencement address I’ve seen live. He was funny and he kept the focus of the speech away from his own work and centered on themes related to graduation and the future of we the graduating class. I did not feel like it was a 20 minute speech, and I admit I was surprised when I saw the time stamp on the youtube video.

The saddest part of graduation, for me, is that the reception afterwards was supposed to be outside. By the time we left the theater, rain poured down. Neither my parents nor I had remembered to bring umbrellas. I would have liked to say goodbye to the wonderful faculty members I had the pleasure of working with while at Emerson, but I didn’t want to wander through the rain only to discover no one bothered to stick around for the reception on Boston Common. No one I asked knew if they’d set up tents or not, and the invitations had said the reception would be held “weather permitting.” I did see my thesis advisor (Megan Marshall) briefly, and I wish I could have delayed a little to ask her how her new book is coming along. I enjoyed her book on the Peabody sisters and I’m quite looking forward to her book about Margaret Fuller. All of us graduate students were being herded out of the theater and into a plaza outside, which at least had an overhang to protect us somewhat from the rain. We stood in our graduation regalia texting or calling our families to let them know where we ended up, since no one had bothered to inform the guests that we’d all been sent outside.

Once I found my parents,  we wandered over to a nearby restaurant instead of getting soaked in a quest to find out if anyone had stayed for the outdoor reception. Our waitress happened to be an undergraduate at Emerson, still a year away from graduation. She immediately identified the purple and yellow lining of my master’s hood as Emerson’s colors and we chatted a little about the school. Someday she may be an editor I’ll work with. Delicious food and a chat with a fellow Emersonian served as a good ending to the day.

As I had hoped, attending graduation provided a good sense of closure to my experience at Emerson College. I’m happy I have my master’s hood for my graduation regalia, too. Someday I may need it if I choose to teach at a college or university. At present, teaching college students isn’t something I particularly want to do. My writing career is not yet advanced enough for me to have a hope of finding gigs that pay well, so for now I’m exploring other teaching options (and career options in general) that might pay all the bills.

I’m… done?

I still find it a little difficult to believe I’m done with my Master of Fine Arts degree. The diploma itself has sat on my desk since January, protected by the stiff cardboard envelope it was mailed in. Until I walk in the graduation ceremony on the 14th, I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve finished. A piece of paper with my name on it doesn’t seem as concrete a finale.

The months since receiving that expensive bit of paper have been filled with me wondering what to do next. Teaching abroad had seemed like a sure thing, but circumstances dictated that it won’t happen this year. Maybe I’ll get into one of the programs I like on try 2, maybe I won’t. For now I’m working on getting some teaching experience and generally figuring out Plan C.

I’m continuing to study Japanese because I enjoy studying, not because I feel I need it. During my thesis semester, studying helped keep me sane. To a nerd like me, making and studying flash cards is soothing and having the structure of studying something is also a sanity saver. I started to pick Japanese up again faster than I expected, so I suppose all that time I spent watching anime and half-heartedly studying Japanese as a teenager did pay off. I can say a lot more than just 私は日本語が少しわかります(I understand a little Japanese), and I can back up that sentence with evidence. Once upon a time, my fluency in any language other than English was limited to a few pleasantries (please, thank you, hello, goodbye) and the all-important “I don’t speak this language.” For French, Spanish, and German, that’s still more or less all I can say. I’m still surprised how often I was stopped in Europe by natives asking for directions (my favorite was in Amsterdam, where the woman went on to say “English! Second time this has happened today”). Apparently my choice not to dress sloppily paid off, and I managed to somewhat blend in.

One of the best things that’s come out of me beginning to shed my monolingual status is the international community of language learners. I never realized how many fantastic online communities there are, where fluent speakers take the time to correct speakers who are not fluent. I like helping people who are trying to learn English and it’s invaluable to have people correcting my still-sketchy Japanese.

There are other things I ought to be focusing on, such as my writing career, but for now I’m taking it slow while I decide exactly what I want my focus to be. I write, or at least work on plotting and development, almost every day. That too keeps me sane while I figure out all those larger life goals.

The end is nigh

I had trouble deciding on a title for what I had nicknamed Sir Thesis of Doom, because everything is more ridiculous and giggle-provoking by adding “of Doom” to the end. I narrowed the choices down to two and then polled a few of the fantastic people who participate in National Novel Writing Month here in Boston. They all voted for the title I had been leaning towards, and so my thesis is now officially entitled “Paper Turtles.” Continue reading

Blogenning Theme of the Week: NaNoWriMo

If you walk into your favorite cafe in November and find an unusual number of people crowded around tables that seem too small and fragile for the number of laptops, hear the rapid tapping of keyboards, and see a couple people hunched over notebooks with inky fingers, you may have just stumbled upon National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) participants (hereafter referred to as Wrimos) holding a write-in. A second test of whether these people are Wrimos is to look for dark circles under their eyes, perhaps a bit of jittering from a few too many cups of coffee or cans of <insert name of energy drink of choice>, and a certain degree of deadline induced frustration. Wait for someone to shout out an “a-HA” when they figure out a crucial plot point and get to tap furiously at the keys again, listen for someone giggling like mad as they turn to their neighbor to share a particularly egregious typo that changes a character’s motivation from innocence to bizarre fetishest. Watch for the person who stops typing and stares at their screen with an expression of despair, and whose neighbor or perhaps friendly ML gives them a thought about how to move forward.

For me, NaNoWriMo is all about community. There’s something amazingly inspiring about having a group of people who share the same goal, all of them fighting to write a novel in a month. Support is something writers struggle to find in the early days, and while I have a writing community outside of that one month I appreciate the spirit of people gathered who just want to write. 

I participated in NaNoWriMo five times, from 2006-2010. I “won,” by which I mean reached 50,000 words in November, four out of those five times. The year I got perhaps 16k written was 2008, right after I moved to Boston. I only got to two write-ins that year, which may have as much to do with my loss as the fact I worked an exhausting retail job that paid very little and came with oddball hours while attending graduate school full time. Having the support of a community helps remind me why NaNoWriMo is fun and that I’m not the only one struggling with a half formed novel that sometimes tries to squirm into a different shape. Attending write-ins also helps remind me that I’m not the only one with numerous non-NaNoWriMo committments and deadlines in November. They remind me that failing to reach 50k isn’t synonymous with “losing.”

I’ll be sitting this year out, though I’ll likely try to attend some write-ins. November, for me, is Thesis Editing Month. Boston participants may find me hunched over my laptop with marked-up papers next to me, cursing at a recalcitrant draft. I fully recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who wants to write a novel, especially to people who understand that winning is really about getting anything written at all. It doesn’t have to be the full 50k. It doesn’t even have to be 1k. The point is to write.

Final semester, I am in you

My first meeting of the semester with my thesis chair took place on Thursday. Even though I felt woefully underprepared, I think I managed to come across both more coherent and less stressed out than I in fact was. The mile walk to campus is about the perfect length to clear my head before a meeting without tiring myself out. As I suspected, it seems like my advisor is good at this type of teaching, and she sent me home with a decent list of books and articles to look at to help me get a feel for what others have done with subjects I’m writing about.

In the end, even if I hate the final drafts of my thesis, I will have learned a ton during my time at Emerson, and I truly look forward to being able to ask my advisor a lot of questions about research projects. My thesis isn’t a research project, but the couple things I want to work right after I finish this up will be heavily research oriented. No matter how much I end up hating my thesis, I at least have projects I’m truly excited for ahead of me.

I’ve read statitistics before about the high percentage of MFA graduates who quit writing after they receive their diploma. Of the ones who don’t quit writing, maybe half are eventually published. I don’t think I’ll be among the set who quits wrting. I don’t think I have it in me to stop having ideas I want to play with.

The point for now is to not get too bogged down by stress and frustration.

Fall is my favorite season, and one that’s perfectly tailored to cut down on the aforementioned stress and frustration. Long walks in cool weather, beautiful New England fall colors, that crisp edge to the air… I’m looking forward to all the things I love about fall, stress or no stress. Maybe this year I’ll even carve a pumpkin for my favorite holiday of the year, good old Halloween.

And away we go

If there’s something I’m passionate about, I’m decisive. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

I’ve thought about teaching English abroad off and on for years. It’s not something I talked about much because I tend not to discuss ideas until they come perilously close to being plans. So it came as a surprise to most of my family and friends when I brought it up recently, asking for the advice of people who have done this. Everyone I’ve talked to thus far has been supportive, which reminds me yet again why my people are awesome.

Every once in awhile I decide it’s time to go on a new adventure. The first of these may have been the semester I spent in London, which remains my fondest memory of my undergraduate years. It taught me so much about what I want and need as a person, and is what helped lead me to pursue a master’s degree here in Boston. Boston has been an adventure and a growing experience in its own right, from the frustrations of working a retail job to the deep satisfaction of befriending lots of crazy writers.

Now that my time at Emerson is almost over, I feel it’s time to start planning the next big adventure. Teaching abroad seems like the perfect fit, considering teaching has always been something I want to do and considering I want to experience more of the world. So many years of college has spoiled me, in a way, because I’ve been able to focus on things I love. I can’t imagine going into a job where I’m just a 9-5er straight out of grad school, especially not a job where I don’t feel like I’m able to give back some of what has made my life great.

I’m probably driving people crazy with my confidence that I will find a teaching job abroad, but the truth is I’ve never failed to get something I truly want (I’ve failed to get a lot of things that I sort of wanted). Add to that the fact that I have a lot of qualifications, and I can’t believe I won’t succeed. It might take awhile, perhaps a lot longer than I think, but I’ll get there.